By GARY POPP
> SOUTHERN INDIANA — One of the most involved organizations providing services to survivors of the tornado that ravaged parts of Southern Indiana in 2012 is expected to cease to exist by the end of the year.
And that’s good news, said March2Recovery’s Executive Director Carolyn King, of Jeffersonville. King said she and other organizers plan to meet the needs of the nearly 150 families whose lives were turned upside down by the deadly March 2, 2012, EF-4 tornado before Jan. 1.
And when those needs are met, the recovery organization will disband.
While the agency still has a long road to traverse in approaching months, King said M2R has already taken big steps.
“We are past the beginning phases,” King said. “We are probably halfway there, as far as numbers we are working with.”
King said 1,329 households in its targeted area registered with FEMA to receive assistance following the tornado.
“Out of that, we have contacted all but maybe 150 or so families that were not able to be reached,” King said, adding that those households could have moved from the area or sought other forms of assistance.
Of all the FEMA registrants, King said M2R was hands-on with about 400 of the families, which had a wide range of needs.
“We are down right now to working with probably just over 100 families that still need services and are in the process of being helped right now,” she said.
King said those families have such varied needs that there is no such thing as the typical tornado victim. Some families only needed debris removed from their property. Others needed their home completely rebuilt.
“Some of the people just have dented roofs or something. They can still live in their place, but [their home] was definitely damaged and hurt the resale [value]. Some lost decks, so we might, later down the road, help replace some of these things,” King said.
The umbrella of services orchestrated by M2R have included making a mortgage payment during an insurance lapse, providing home furnishing, assisting with medical expenses and even referring people to other agencies that can better meet their needs.
“We anticipate eight to nine complete rebuilds. There will be another 13 mobile home replacements,” King said. “The rest are just rehabs. Some are significant repairs to houses, like whole wings of it, but it is not [a rebuild] from the ground up.”
She said M2R has been involved in the building and rebuilding of homes spearheaded by other organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, but that involvement can be limited to paying for a new septic system or other peripheral needs.
“As far as work completed, we are working on at least half of them. Only about a third of them are completed. Some are 60 percent along, some are 80 percent along,” she said.
King said the rate of completing the projects depends heavily on the amount of volunteers available.
“It just depends on what volunteers are in town that weekend,” she said. “And, if they have the skills to do the stage that you are on.”
She said 71 construction projects have been approved through MR2.
“We are at least touching half of them,” King said. “But others know they are down the road. We have completed one house. W e have two others that are about 90 percent right now. They are all at different stages.”
She said the M2R team works to determine the a family’s specific needs and organize, primarily, volunteers to respond to those problems.
“What we provide are the materials — construction materials. We will contract for specialties like plumbing or electric, but the rest is through volunteer work,” King said.
Each family is receiving an average of $20,000 through the organization, but the payments could be $5,000 for one family and $60,000 for another, depending on the households’ needs, King explained.
The funds reach the families through materials and services, not direct payments.
In all, M2R will allot nearly $2.5 million to those looking to return normalcy to their lives following the tornado.
The majority of the funding distributed by M2R was provided by the Indiana Natural Disaster Fund, funded by the Lilly Endowment through the Indiana Association of United Ways.
King said the winter months slowed progress, but she expects efforts to pick up as the weather warms.
“We are still thinking we will be done by October, November this year,” King said.
She said the organization is actively seeking volunteer reinforcements.
“We are totally dependent on skilled volunteers,” she said. “Here is where it gets kind of tricky, because we are not really looking for the youth group that wants to do something good on the weekend. We are looking for skilled people willing to come.”
She said those with knowledge in plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling, roofing and residential siding trades are encouraged to visit the organization’s website at march2recovery.org to learn more about volunteer opportunities.
Looking back on the past year, King said she thinks the group has overcome the most formidable obstacles.
“The initial part was very difficult,” King said. “Just getting it organized, dealing with everybody’s trauma and dealing with multiple helping organizations — some very good and some not very good.”
She said after more organized procedures were put into place, M2R could more easily provide efficient and fair assistance.
“If you look at the six-month anniversary — that was still a pretty dark time for everybody,” King said. “People were still very wounded. I think as the year is coming around, I am seeing a lot more hope.”
As King has gotten to know the survivors over the course of the year, she said she has been amazed at their resilience, but knows they have gone through very troubling times.
“I think some people were severely affected. Of course, when you have personal injuries, death, it really takes a toll and makes you question a lot of things in your own life,” King said. “There are a lot of fears when storms come through. That is a very fearful time for people.”
While the community heals from the hurt and devastation, King said it has been an unexpected bonding opportunity for the community.
“It has also been a very encouraging time for people because they have gotten to know neighbors. They have shared stories with people they never met before,” she said. “I think in some ways it can help improve a community emotionally by going through a trauma together.”